Infosys Acquires Lodestone: It’s Not about the Money; It’s about Sending a Message | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On September 10, 2012

With over US$4 billion in cash reserves, Infosys had a history of keeping analysts on their toes speculating on the moves it would make. However, after its botched attempt to acquire Axon (which HCL won in a competitive bid), Infosys chose to sit on its money pile for so long that some bored analysts joked that the cash would hatch into chicken!

Infosys has experienced a fair amount of criticism recently due to its below par performance compared to its peers. With good news few and far between, Infosys had to set the ball rolling in the endeavor to resurrect its image as a market leader. Let’s take a look at its acquisition of Lodestone – a Zurich-based management consultancy that advises international companies on strategy, process optimization and IT transformation – fares not only from an overall strategic perspective but also from an image management perspective.

Geography focus: Europe

With three quarters of Lodestone’s revenue coming from Switzerland and Germany, there are no prizes for guessing Infosys’ geographic focus. Alongside European logos, Infosys will acquire local leadership, language skills and reputation in a market (Continental Europe) that has been traditionally tough for Indian service providers. It is not surprising that this acquisition follows Cognizant’s purchase of Galileo earlier this year, which enables it expansion in France, and Wipro’s acquisition of a Citibank’s datacenter in Meerbusch (Germany).

Our verdict: A good move. Infosys was not gaining traction with its strategy of organic growth in Europe. Has it done enough to position itself in Europe? No. It will have to thread together a string of pearls (products, business consulting, systems integration, etc.) through acquisitions to even convey the message that it has truly arrived in Europe. Lodestone is not going to be the silver bullet for all of Infosys’ ailments in the region.

Competency focus: SAP consulting

With a post-acquisition turnover of more than US$1 billion in SAP programs, Infosys positions itself among the top players in this area. SAP is one of the fastest growing programs within Infosys, and this move should help cross-pollinate market access and expertise between Infosys and Lodestone. However, Infosys has demonstrated visible sluggishness in its ability to manage growth with increasing size due to its single-minded focus on margins. Will it fail this challenge too?

Our verdict: Not likely, because SAP consulting is indeed a high-margin business, which makes this acquisition very much in line with Infosys’ stated strategy.

Financials of the acquisition

This is an area in which even the strongest Infosys bashers must give it credit. Looking at the revenue multiples paid by service providers for some of their recent acquisitions:

    • HP-Autonomy: 11x
    • HCL-Axon: 2.2x
    • Wipro-Infocrossing: 2.6x
    • TCS-Citi BPO: 1.9x
    • Infosys-Lodestone: 1.6x

Our verdict: Cautious, but a good deal. However, it remains to be seen how many successful acquisitions Infosys can make with this scrupulous strategy. I believe Infosys will need to acquire multiple companies to bolster its high-margin strategy; and that will require it to go shopping with an eye on its competitors who have shown themselves to be much more aggressive.

Infosys famously walked out of the Axon deal (and lost out to HCL) by refusing to negotiate its price ceiling. And its intense focus on the premium pricing of its services has led to further entrenchment of this “non-negotiable” image among its clients, as it has chosen to walk away from projects rather than budge on pricing. Burdened by this image, Infosys can pick only one from the following two options:

  1. Be apologetic about what it has done, and go back to the negotiation tables with competitive pricing for clients and open purse strings for acquisition targets
  2. Show aggression and speed in acquiring high-margin capabilities, and push ahead with its stated strategy, i.e., to increase its revenue share from value-added, high-margin services

The latter is what its leadership says it is doing. And I think that strategy is spot on. That is why I believe the highlight of this acquisition is not the money Infosys spent on it, but rather more about the message it is trying to send – Infosys is still in the game.

The news on the grapevine is that Infosys already has a lineup of targeted acquisitions in various stages of maturity. It will be interesting to see Infosys’ next move as it attempts to push ahead in what has been a challenging period.

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